Jim Harrer

STARTUPS, TURNAROUNDS, APPDEV, AGILE & LIFE...

VentureBox–A business accelerator in Bend, Oregon.

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VentureBox is a business accelerator in Bend, Oregon, where I live. Each accelerator is a little different, so let me give you some background.

Business accelerators are different than business incubators (which focus on product ideas) primarily because all of our founders already have a business concept and a basic “pitch” of what their business is and what problem it solves.   Last December (2011) we started with 37 businesses applying to VentureBox and through our vetting process we selected 7.  Most are all in the “Early Concept”, pre-revenue stage.  We have  high-tech web based SaaS products, a mobile app and one physical product in medical devices.  The VentureBox class meets every Wednesday from 3-8pm for a class and workshop.  Each week we teach, then have a workshop on what they just learned and apply it to their business concept.  Then they go home with homework and goals for the week.

The course runs for 12 weeks and concludes with an investor day where Angel Investors get to meet the companies and hear their pitch. The cost for each company to attend the course is $1,500  plus 2% founder equity. The business community in Bend, Oregon, was kind enough to step up and sponsor each of the 7 companies so none of the Founders had any out of pocket expenses to participant in the program.

VentureBox’s executive director is Jim Boeddeker (JimBo) who I met after the Bend Venture Conference last October. He is a servant leader, and coach, over a pool of past founders and local business leaders who make up the Mentor team. Not an easy job managing all of us type A personalities, but he makes it look easy.  The Mentor team is experienced and deep. It’s made up of Founders, Subject Matter Experts, creative and talented individuals who have a passion for startups.

The business model is pretty simple. VentureBox has two groups: Investors and non-investors. Investors have invested cash in the company to cover the first two years of estimated administrative costs. Non-investors are pledging sweat equity and time in the Mentor program.  The 2% equity from each company is placed in a pool and then divided fairly between all involved in the program.

Each company going through the VentureBox program has access to the entire Mentor team. Wednesday is a big learning day, but the majority of the learning happens outside of the classroom where the Mentors meet with the companies over coffee or lunch and block and tackle through the goals for the week.  I think the Mentors is VentureBox’s secret sauce and they have recruited some great people. I’m proud to be a mentor and investor in VentureBox.

It’s also important to note that VentureBox is also a startup. We spent October to February working on the structure, training curriculum, facilities, sponsorships, marketing and vetting process for our first VentureBox class which started on February 15th, 2012.  We’re eating our own dog food and at times haven’t liked the taste, so we’ve done some minor pivots and continue to fight for feedback on what is working and where we need to improve. VentureBox’s foundation is built on Steven Blank’s “Customer Development” framework with Eric Reis’s Lean Startup principles layered on top. So we’re in continuous development mode, calling audibles every single day.

Well, there you have it. If you have any questions on VentureBox please don’t hesitate to use the comment feature below and I’ll be happy to answer them. You can contact JimBo via the VentureBox Website as well.

Now that you have a primer on VentureBox, I plan to blog my observations each week in future blog posts.

…Jim

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